Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt (1486-1541) was an early associate of Martin Luther whose desire for faster and more radical reform brought division between the two reformers. The reasons for God’s punishment of David after conducting a census has long perplexed exegetes, and many reformation commentators wrestled with its theological implications. In this excerpt, we see Karlstadt’s attempts to understand 2 Samuel 24:2, whereby, while making clear that he is only speculating on the Lord’s reasons, he concludes that David’s actions were a display of him trusting in his own power and means, rather than those of God.

2 Samuel 24:2

So the king said to Joab and the army commanders with him, “Go throughout the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are.”

Commentary on 2 Samuel 24:2

Saul enumerated his people and God did not show disfavor. . . . But when David enumerated his people, it was a sin unto death. . . . David undertook to number his people and understood in the end only that he had acted foolishly and sinfully. . . . I do not know the reason, especially since David recognized his folly and sin only when God struck his heart, but I fancy and guess that David forgot his great modesty and sought instead to gain victory and power with a great horde and with a multitude of people, as is the case now with all commanders and soldiers. They number their people and assess the usefulness of their armor and of everything else. And when they have plenty of people, and a variety of military equipment, and a good advantage, they hope to maintain their advantage. But when they have few people and weak weapons and defenses, they soon give up their manliness. Their heart drops, I don’t know where, and they totally forget . . . that they ought to fear God alone.

1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, eds. Derek Cooper and Martin J. Lohrmann, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, OT vol. 5, 256.

RCS Series: Voices of the Reformation


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